NC’s prisons said all inmates would be tested for COVID-19 by August. It doesn’t have a schedule to do so.

Updated: Jul. 10, 2020 at 1:50 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina prison system does not have a schedule to test all of its inmates for COVID-19, despite repeated claims it will complete the testing by mid-August, which came after a judge ordered mass testing.

Prison leaders announced on June 18 that all inmates would be tested for the virus within 60 days.

On Friday, nearly half-way through the 60-day window, 6,513 inmates, or roughly 20% of inmates, had been tested. That figure includes more than 700 inmates that were tested this spring at Neuse Correctional Facility during an outbreak there.

Of the inmates that have been tested, roughly 14% have tested positive.

John Bull, a prison spokesman, said more than 700 of the 911 inmates that tested positive are considered to have recovered.

Previous: NC lags in testing for COVID-19 in prisons. Experts say more will die unless that changes

In a statement sent late Thursday, Bull said the North Carolina National Guard had been called in to help with testing.

“On July 8, 2020, the 42nd Civil Support Team worked with corrections officials to assist in COVID-19 testing for offenders at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women,” Bull said.

“The 42nd Civil Support Team will conduct similar COVID-19 testing at other prisons across the state over the next few weeks.”

But Bull couldn’t provide a testing schedule for where, exactly, the next tests would take place. Pressed repeatedly, Bull could not provide any specific timeline for testing the remaining 80% of state prison inmates.

Bull said the department intends to test inmates at 10 more prison facilities next week but didn’t list the facilities nor provide the headcount of those facilities. He continued to maintain, however, that the prison system was on track to test all inmates by its projected mid-August timeline.

“With the additional support from the Guard, the Department is hopeful that it can complete system-wide testing within the next 30-days, barring any unforeseen circumstances,” Bull said. “This would result in testing being completed on or around mid-August 2020.”

But in a court filing on June 26 submitted to the judge that ordered all inmates be tested, lawyers for the prison system indicated it would take at least 60 days to complete the testing.

Previous: NC kept moving hundreds of inmates during pandemic. Experts say that increased risks.

The court filing describes the system prison leaders plan to use to determine which prisons will be tested, using a tiered system determined largely by the number of cases previously identified at a specific prison. But the court filing does not provide a specific schedule or timeline by which prison administrators plan to conduct the testing.

“The facility-wide testing will move throughout the state facility by facility as directed by Prison Administration and as informed by the priority list provided above and as operationally reasonable,” the filing said. “Even with an increase in testing capacity, the Department estimates that it will take at least 60 days to test all offenders in all facilities.”

The filing was made before the National Guard began assisting with testing inmates.

According to information published by the Department of Public Safety, the agency that includes the state’s prison system, shows five offenders have died from the virus. At least one staff member, a nurse supervisor who worked at Caswell Correctional Center, has died of the virus.

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